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Consumer Health: What do you know about headaches?

Take note of your symptoms when a headache occurs. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Laurel Kelly
Mayo Clinic News Network

June is Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, which makes this a good time to learn more about headaches.

Headache is pain in any region of the head. Headaches may occur on one or both sides of the head, be isolated to a certain location, radiate across the head from one point, or have a viselike quality. A headache may appear as a sharp pain, a throbbing sensation or a dull ache. Headaches can develop gradually or suddenly, and may last from less than an hour to several days.

Headaches are generally classified by cause.

Primary headaches

A primary headache is caused by overactivity of, or problems with, pain-sensitive structures in your head. A primary headache isn’t a symptom of an underlying disease.

The most common primary headaches are:

• Cluster headache.

• Migraine.

• Migraine with aura.

• Tension headache.

Secondary headaches

A secondary headache is a symptom of a disease that can activate the pain-sensitive nerves of the head. Any number of conditions — varying greatly in severity — can cause secondary headaches.

Some types of secondary headaches include:

• Medication overuse headaches.

• Sinus headaches.

• Spinal headaches.

• Thunderclap headaches.

When to seek emergency care

Your headache symptoms can help your health care team determine the cause and appropriate treatment. Most headaches aren’t the result of a serious illness, but some may result from a life-threatening condition requiring emergency care.

Seek emergency care if you’re experiencing the worst headache of your life; a sudden, severe headache; or a headache accompanied by:

• Confusion or trouble understanding speech.

• Fainting.

• High fever, greater than 102 to 104 F.

• Numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of your body.

• Stiff neck.

• Trouble seeing, speaking or walking.

• Nausea or vomiting, if not clearly related to the flu or a hangover.


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